A conversation I had with my parents just before my high school graduation has stuck with me.
We reflected on my life until then – on all of the incredible things that had happened. We reminisced on all of the wonderful times I was leaving behind.
After talking for awhile, my mom finally asked me a tough question, “Are you going to miss it?”
My response was quick. It was actually so natural that it caught me off guard.
“No,” I responded.
In hindsight, it doesn’t really make sense. How wouldn’t I miss high school? I had the most incredible high school experience that I could have imagined. Who else gets to lead two teams to district championships, graduate with the top GPA in his class, and be crowned as Homecoming King? Who else was legitimately excited to see what the day had in store each and every morning?
No one I’m aware of.
Yet I was somehow sure that I wouldn’t miss it all. Why was that?
It took me awhile to figure it out, but eventually it hit me. It came down to a simple phrase that I had internalized:
Let me explain.
While other students were crying and remorsing about the experiences they were leaving behind, I felt nothing but excitement because I had come to grips with reality long before graduation.
I had never thought that high school would last forever. I knew my days playing football were numbered. I knew I wouldn’t get to hang out with my friends every day forever. I knew the care-free high school life was temporary.
And I lived every day with that in mind.
Every season when I laced up my cleats, I took the time to smell the fresh-cut grass. On game days, I made a conscious effort to take it all in. I savored the early morning weekend basketball practices, and the team breakfasts we had afterwards.
And I give it my all on the field. I worked on my game to be the best that I could be.
Because I understood that it would all end soon.
And since I tried to live every day in this reality, it wasn’t a surprise when the end finally came. I was prepared to let it all go. Sure I knew that I was leaving behind some incredible times, but I was ready to see what was next.
Looking back, I’m proud that I was able to maintain this mindset for most of high school. But it wasn’t always like that.
In particular, there’s one situation I misplayed that still bothers me.
I went through the first 15 or so years of my life taking my time with my grandpa for granted. I enjoyed being around him, but I didn’t make much of an effort to spend time with him and learn from him. I acted like he would be around forever.
Until suddenly he wasn’t. One tough turn of events, and suddenly he was gone.
It was heartbreaking. And honestly, it wasn’t until the last year or so that I truly understood how much I had missed. I deeply wish I could go back and have a conversation with him. That I had spent more time with my grandpa, and made more of an effort to understand who he was.
But it’s too late now.
This situation has taught me a valuable lesson.
I learned that everything around me is temporary. My health, my relationships, my lifestyle, even my life – literally any and everything in my life could be taken from me at any time.
So I accept this cruel reality, and I let it determine how I live my life.
As Gary Veynerchuck bluntly puts it: ‘You’re gonna die. Do something about it.” Ryan Holiday literally carries a coin with a quote from Marcus Aurelius that translates to: “You can leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say.”
This idea seems depressing, but for me it’s liberating.
My time on Earth is limited. There’s no question about it. I don’t know if I’ll be around for another 80 years or 80 days, but I know that everyday death creeps closer.
So rather than fight that reality, I embrace it.
Every morning when I wake up, I try to remind myself how fortunate I am for all of the great things in my life. I try not to let any days slip away, because I never know how many more I’ll have.
Am I perfect? Of course not. But I’m always trying to improve.
When I spend time with my wife, I try to remind myself to stay off of my phone and to fully live in the moment. When I sit with my dog in the morning, I savor that time because I have no idea how long she’ll be around. I take the time to appreciate a sunset, or a cool autumn breeze. I understand that my parents won’t live forever.
I even try to appreciate little things like my ability to dunk in pick up basketball games, because I know that the clock is ticking. Before long, I’ll barely be able to get above the rim.
And that brings me back to high school.
If you’re fortunate enough to still be in school, playing a game you love with your buddies, don’t take it for granted. Give it all you have, and take the time to enjoy the journey. Don’t leave yourself looking back with regret.
Sure things will get tough sometimes. There will be ups and downs. Sometimes you might not even feel like going to practice. But in moments like these ask yourself – if you only had one day left to play the sport you love, how would you play? Would you take plays off? Would you give it anything less than your all every minute? Would you complain about going to practice?
Enjoy it now, and make the most of it, because it’ll be gone before you know it.